Not every Town of Oyster Bay board member supported the hiring of Brian Nevin, nor did some even appear to be aware of what position was up for consideration at Tuesday’s general meeting. What was clear was that Supervisor Joseph Saladino really wanted Nevin, a top aide to County Executive Ed Mangano, who is currently facing federal corruption charges, to become the town’s new public information officer. After a great deal of discussion, some discord and an executive session, Nevin was hired, and will be paid $163,000 a year.
Nevin, of Merrick, worked for Mangano in 2010 as a senior policy adviser and communications director. And he was once the Republicans’ director of operations in the State Assembly. Saladino said several times that he knew Nevin well and had worked with him for years, presumably when the supervisor was an assemblyman.
“I thought we were filling a spot for the director of public information,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia.
“No,” Saladino responded. The purpose of hiring Nevin, he said, was to increase the town’s transparency and fully communicate to the public and media what progress is being made.
But there are already two people running the town’s press office — Marta Kane, the director of community relations, and Brian Devine, whose title is research assistant. Although not hired as the director, Nevin would apparently oversee both.
Councilman Anthony Macagnone, the lone board member who did not vote for Nevin, gave several reasons why he believed the hire would be a mistake. He complained, as did other board members, that the board had not been given Nevin’s resume. And he had other concerns.
“Why can’t we have one of our 300,000 workers fill the spot?” Macagnone asked. “And it would be a lot cheaper to get someone from the outside. With benefits, it will end up being a $200,000 job.”
But Saladino, who appeared to be expecting many of the questions, quickly assured Macagnone that Nevin would not be taking the benefits. And Vicki Spinelli, deputy commissioner for human resources, said she never shared the resumes of potential hires with board members. But when Saladino asked her to provide Nevin’s, she left to get it.
This is not your typical hire, Saladino assured board members. Nevin will have other responsibilities, too. “This is someone who is highly experienced,” he said. “He will assist in supervising the office as a high-level adviser, craft the day-to-day public planning and policy decisions, assist in consolidations and cost savings. I know him from Albany, and he has a wide breadth of experience on the local and state level.”
But Macagnone was not satisfied. “You are putting a high-powered operative to take a spot that doesn’t even live in Oyster Bay,” he said.
Councilwoman Michele Johnson suggested that the hiring be tabled, and Macagnone seconded it. But the meeting continued, focusing on Nevin.
When members of the public were given the chance to speak, they didn’t support the hire, either. One woman asked why the town would pay anyone such a large salary when taxes are so high.
Saladino responded that hiring Nevin would save the town millions of dollars. Additionally, the offer matched what Nevin is now making with the county.
Robert Freier, a Democratic candidate for town board, said he agreed with Macagnone. “We are taking away jobs from hard-working town workers to hire someone politically connected to you,” he told Saladino. “The year is almost over. Why not deal with this in January? Mr. Supervisor, you don’t know if you’ll be here in January.”
“The testimony of Mr. Freier is not accurate,” Saladino said. “We have a person who will take on multiple roles and will make changes that the public is demanding.”
Kevin McKenna, of Syosset appeared disappointed. “Every time I have a feeling things are starting to change for the better, I get hit with a curve ball,” he said. “This hire is unbelievable.”
The meeting eventually moved to executive session so board members could see Nevin’s resume. Usually people leave, because such sessions can be long, but this time no one did.
When board members returned about 25 minutes later, they voted 6-1 in favor of hiring Nevin, with only Macagnone voting no.
Freier spoke once again, this time reading several quotes from other media outlets attributed to Nevin, all in support of Mangano, who is not expected to run for re-election.
Saladino responded by saying that Freier was a “political activist, a consummate Democratic candidate and someone who has been continually providing misinformation on social media.”
Freier, by now back in his seat, stood up and yelled “Liar!” several times. Then Saladino called for a vote to end the meeting.